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What type of camera do I need to take reasonable photos across a swimming pool?

The distance that seems to be the problem as at competitions spectators are confined to the balcony... not surprising as there can be up to two hundred plus swimmers and officials around the pool.

I've been trying to take photos from the balcony and across the pool which is at least 20 to 30 yards away. The medal winners podium is usually on the far of the pool.

Plus I would like to take a series of photos in quick succession to capture a swimmer in mid-air as they dive in at the start of a race.

I'm not to sure what to even ask for in a shop. If the right equipment is too expensive I'll look for something secondhand but I need guidance on what to look for.

At present I am using an Hitachi HBC 1600 Black. This seems fine for "family" type photos that is groups and fairly close up. The swimming pools are 90% indoors. Most (80%) are 25 metre pools the rest 50 metre olympic size. France, Germany, Belgium....indoors, In the south Malta, Spain are the outdoor. I don't really have a budget at this time as I don't really know exactly what is required. I don't want to buy several cameras...the aim is to get the right one first time.

Another thought here...I do tend to video the shorter races (100,200 and 400 metre) but do have problems getting close enough in order to see arm, body and leg positions. The difference between 1st (gold) and 10th (oblivion) is measured in hundredths of a second so technic is vital.

  • What's your budget? Do you currently have a camera? Are you looking for a camera on which you can change lenses? Or would a bridge camera be acceptable to you? – osullic Mar 19 '15 at 22:48
  • @osullic - that would make this a shopping question which would date quickly. Feel free to take it up in chat though... – James Snell Mar 19 '15 at 22:53
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    Is this an indoor or an outdoor pool? – inkista Mar 19 '15 at 23:53
  • What is "reasonable"? A cell phone can do this. – dpollitt Mar 20 '15 at 0:05
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    a cell phone lacks a decent zoom, which is essential for this use case. – ths Mar 20 '15 at 11:20
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Frankly, I don't think a camera is going to solve your problem. You have a superzoom bridge camera with a lens that has 500mm equivalence. To get closer, you're going to have to have better access. Period. A 500mm lens with a dSLR would cost you at least US$1000 and it's liable to be too slow for what you want to shoot. And that's not counting the camera body, and it would still likely to be too slow to get a good shot in an indoor pool. You have to get better access if you want better photos.

The "best" (still affordable) lens for this would likely to be a 70-200/2.8, which is around US$1500-$2500. But if you think 500mm equiv. reach isn't enough, then probably a 300/2.8 (on crop, it has 450mm equiv.) or 400/4 (on crop, 600mm equiv.) is what you're looking for, and those go for around US$2000-$7000.

Pro sports photographers get the shots they do because they have closer access, better gear, and permission to set up flashes for lighting. You're not going to be getting magazine-worthy shots sitting up in the bleachers. And with dSLR gear, the expense can be more than it's worth for you, with only so-so results.

The main problems are that you need reach and you need a large maximum aperture in combination. This is a big ask with lenses. You are trying, in lower light, to get a fast shutter speed as well to "freeze" action. So you need a camera that can autofocus quickly and accurately in lower light (not easy), and have very good high ISO performance. With a camera like yours, or a consumer-grade telephoto zoom and an entry level dSLR body, you're mostly going to be limited to something like iso 1600 or 3200 and and f/5.6 (which won't be as sharp as f/8), which is liable to bring your shutter speed down to 1/200s or so. Which may not be fast enough. So, you not only need a pro-quality lens, you also want a prosumer body.

Unfortunately, indoor sports is one of the most demanding subjects when it comes to gear. This doesn't mean you can't get good shots with less expensive gear, but your keeper rate is going to be quite a bit lower. A fast prime lens may cut down on the cost, but will severely limit your framing capabilities. There's no easy way around the fact that getting appropriate gear for shooting indoor sports is tough.

  • I knew all along I needed a miracle, but in the absence of little old men living in the sky all we are left with is facts, reality and hard truths....I don't like your answer but it contains more truth than any holy book....thanks.... – Lionel Spencer-Ward Mar 24 '15 at 15:28
  • @LionelSpencer-Ward Sorry! – inkista Mar 24 '15 at 17:37
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Lenses are specified by their focal length (and a zoom lens will cover a range of focal lengths). The longer the focal length, the higher the magnification of the object you are photographing. So to photograph distant objects, be they swimmers or anything else, what you need is a lens with a long focal length.

So what constitutes a long focal length? Well there could be a long discussion on this, including considerations such as sensor size and field of view, but that might be beyond the scope of this explanation. For really effective photography of distant objects, I would suggest simply looking at lenses of 200mm focal length and up. If possible, go to a camera shop and try some out to see what you think might suit your needs.

Other considerations that you should have include:

  • Maximum aperture - a wide maximum aperture (such as f/2.8) will allow more light into the lens, allowing for faster shutter speeds, and consequently allowing you to freeze action and minimise camera shake.

  • Image stabilisation - this feature is another way to counteract camera shake, allowing you to use slightly slower shutter speeds (which can be useful when ambient light levels are lower).

One thing you don't need to be concerned about is flash. On-camera flash has no effect at longer distances. (In fact it has a negative effect, as it fools your camera into thinking that the scene is being artificially lit when it is not.) You will achieve better exposure without flash.

One last point, you say you're not sure what to ask for in a shop. That's exactly what shop assistants are there for!

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    Re the shop assistants.. to be honest I don't trust many of them. It was the assistant who recommended my present camera saying that the flash would help with artificially lit pools. Some simply do not know what they are talking about; this is so easy to see when one has in depth knowledge of a subject but it only makes me twice as skeptical when I don't know what I'm talking about. – Lionel Spencer-Ward Mar 21 '15 at 1:26

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